Our four-year-old daughter announced one teatime that she didn’t want to eat baby animals anymore as she looked sadly at a half-eaten lamb chop, it was the start of a journey for all of us. She has been a committed vegetarian ever since, only once wavering over a bacon sandwich but ultimately the baby animals won. As meat and fish eating foodie parents this has presented us with a challenge but one which we have tried to overcome with lots of inspiration from the books of some well-known TV chefs and a fantastic veggie recipe box supplier. We now enjoy exploring vegetarian and vegan eating and have discovered that every meal does not have to include meat and fish.
This is all very well in the U.K. but at the same time we have been on another journey, one that led us from Cambridge to Toulouse in south west France. How would we juggle the food needs of the veggie in our life with our new life in a country famed for its deliciously meaty cuisine? One of our biggest concerns was about school lunches. However, we didn’t have to worry as the school was very supportive. The Toulouse Mairie publishes the school menus for the month on their website and to our surprise each day includes a non-meat option for the main course and there is a veggie menu at least once a month for the whole school. Of course, being French the school menu includes five courses starting with bread and ending with cheese or yoghurt and fruit or fruit compote. French school lunches are taken very seriously as a fundamental part of a child’s education and each day’s menu reflects a balance of fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates and protein often locally sourced or organic.
Toulouse for vegetarians
Toulouse itself has lots of vegetarian and vegan friendly options. We live only five minutes from a vegan grocers. There are an increasing number of ‘bio’ organic shops which sell a wide range of organic products including veggie and vegan staples such as tofu, nut butters, coconut oil and milk. One of our local bio shops in Toulouse even stocks a ready-made vegetarian cassoulet which our whole family loves as an alternative to the delicious but meat heavy traditional cassoulet.
We don’t have to hunt too far for vegetarian options in cafés and restaurants. The food markets in Toulouse are wonderful and all of them sell a wide range of veggie friendly dishes and increasingly the traiteurs include ready-made veggie dishes such as stuffed tomatoes or vegetable gratin, not to mention cheese and patisserie! We have found that there are reliable and reasonable options if you want to eat out or buy ready-made at boulangeries such as baguettes, veggie tarts and quiches, creperies (creperies usually serve both sweet crepes or pancakes and also the savoury galette which is a pancake made with buckwheat flour) and pizza restaurants.
These are a selection of some of our favourites which are both child and vegetarian friendly in Toulouse:
Our favourite creperie is in Place St George in the centre in the most chic part of town. The square has an enclosed children’s playground in the middle and all the restaurants put their chairs and tables out under colourful umbrellas in both summer and winter. It is the ideal combination; the children are happy playing and we can sit and watch the world go by whilst eating Breton inspired galettes and crepes.
The best pizza (in our view) is found at Pizza Alexis in St Cyprien, just at the end of the Pont Neuf bridge. This is a small neighbourhood restaurant with a big reputation amongst the locals. They welcome children and will make mini pizzas for the smallest members of the family.
Musée les Abbatoirs (don’t be put off by the name!) has a great restaurant – ‘Hemisphere’. The chef organised for our daughter to have her own vegetable tartlets as a main course even though we hadn’t prebooked as vegetarian. This is a good place to take children because it also offers a Sunday afternoon tea and is next door to a park with a playground by the Garonne river.
Place Daurade. A restored former river port in the heart of the city on the river side and the embarkation point for river cruises of the Garonne and Canal du Midi. There is a small café, open in the Summer which serves the usual baguettes and salads but also excellent sharing platters both veggie and mixed. It has a large children’s play area with a replica pirate ship for young pirates to sail the seven seas. It is a lovely spot to sit and eat a picnic if you would rather bring your own and just watch the world sail by.
A vegetarian in South West France really won’t go hungry.
Top tips for vegetarians in France
- Don’t be afraid to ask. We’ve never had a refusal with asking for vegetarian food.
- If possible, ring the restaurant in advance and request a vegetarian option – restaurants are used to catering for children in the evenings
- You can mix and match from a menu. We have found that asking for two veggie starters for a child is not a problem anywhere we have been.
- Don’t forget you can buy direct from farm shops or at a food market – nothing tastes better than vegetables picked and eaten on the same day, even for non-vegetarians.
Liz Axe lives with her family in southwest France where they love the sun, wine and food of the region and are enjoying learning about life in Toulouse and attempting to live a more sustainable way of life: www.slowjourneytofrance.com